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When Bullied Students Should Turn to the Police

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  This blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences, opinions, and information I looked up on the internet.

This is the time of year when kids are heading back to school with new clothes and new notebooks. Unfortunately for some kids, they are going back with an all too familiar feeling of dread – the dread that accompanies going to a school where they are victimized on a daily basis with teasing, being hit and pushed, and being humiliated in front of their classmates and teachers.

I had the pleasure of meeting Caleb Laieski last week, the teen who dropped out of school on his 16th birthday because of the bullying he was enduring. He has since earned his GED and is now a lobbyist in Washington D.C. against bullying and discrimination in schools. We agreed that if a student is being physically assaulted in school and the administration is turning a blind eye to their plight, that the student should report it to the police.

(cc) apdk from Flickr

When I think of bullying in schools, I think about kids being shoved into lockers, being tripped in the hallway, and getting swirlies in the bathroom. In high school, these bullies face detention if they’re caught; but in the real world we call this “assault.” In the real world, people go to jail for this.

We want schools to be safe and we entrust teachers and administrators with protecting students.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes they make excuses for problem students.  Sometimes they ignore the problem, despite receiving reports of bullying and pleas from victimized students and their families. At that point, students can’t rely on the schools for protection, and they should report all incidents involving physical violence to the police.

Why should students go to the police instead of suing the school for not fulfilling their obligation to protect its students? The obvious reason is that it won’t stop the bully in his/her tracks; being arrested will. Suing the school takes a lot of time, energy, and money.  Additionally, the victims of bullying that I’ve met weren’t interested in making money; they just wanted the harassment to stop.  Reporting the violence to police is a faster, more efficient solution.

I recently spoke with a parent who reported a bully to the police. Multiple families had complained about the bully, and the school always made excuses for him. One parent decided that he’d had enough and reported the bully to the police when his child was physically assaulted after sticking up for another student who was being victimized. The benefit to the bully, besides getting a clear message that his behavior was unacceptable, was that he was required to attend the counseling and anger management classes that he needed.

When I was in high school, it seemed like students’ options for recourse ended at the principal’s office.  It makes me wonder if today’s victimized students know that they have options besides dropping out if their school won’t protect them.  The school won’t tell them – a school that won’t protect its students probably doesn’t want them to seek outside help either.  It’s up to the advocates to provide the necessary information and support to these students.

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Is That Legal – Public Dancing

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences, opinions, and information I looked up on the internet.

At 11:45pm on April 12, 2008, Mary Oberwetter and 17 friends engaged in silent dancing inside the Jefferson Memorial while listening to music on their headphones to celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.  The Park Police arrested her when she refused their order to stop.  Oberwetter was charged with interfering with an agency function and demonstrating without a permit, which violates the National Park Service Regulations.  She responded by filing a lawsuit claiming that the police violated her First and Fourth Amendment rights.  On May 17, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals affirmed the judgement that she was lawfully arrested and upheld the dismissal of her claims.

After the ruling came down, five more protesters were arrested for dancing in the Jefferson Memorial over Memorial Day weekend.  The group, led by Adam Kokesh and Edward Dickey, referred to their behavior as civil danceobedience.

Many people, including Elie Mystal from Above the Law, found the ban on dancing in memorials disgusting.  In response to the court ruling and the subsequent arrests, groups all over the world staged dancing events at memorials.  It was reported that as many as 38 countries participated in the event, including demonstrations at the Jefferson Memorial and in Phoenix, Arizona.  I could not find any reports of any arrests at any of the events.

Photo by Adam Nollmeyer

Unfortunately the problem here is the law is clear that any demonstration at a memorial won’t be tolerated.  It’s sad, but that’s what it is.  This event made me wonder, on what grounds might someone be arrested for dancing in public and what can people to prevent it?

Assault:  Assault requires intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing any physical injury to another person or placing them in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury.  So as long as you keep your body at a sufficient distance from other people, I don’t think dancing constitutes assault.

Trespass: Trespass requires knowingly entering or remaining unlawfully on any real property after a reasonable request to leave by the owner or any other person having lawful control over such property, or reasonable notice prohibiting entry.  Public property, like parks containing memorials, are open to everyone so as long as no person with proper authority, dance on!

Unlawful Assembly or Riot:  These crimes require two or more people acting together with force or violence or threats of force that disturb the public peace.  As long as you and your friends can dance without threatening anyone, then it’s ok.

Disorderly Conduct:  This is a catch-all crime for general bad behavior; however, the law requires the intent to disturb the peace with unreasonable noise or violent or seriously disruptive behavior.  I’m guessing you have to be a really bad dancer to rise to the level of seriously disruptive behavior.

Obstructing a Thoroughfare: To obstruct a thoroughfare, you have to recklessly interfere with the passage of a thoroughfare by creating an unreasonable inconvenience or hazard without a legal privilege to do so.  Thus, dancing on the grass, away from the sidewalk or otherwise not interfering with other people’s ability to use the sidewalk because of your dancing appears to be permissible.

Bolin Park Rules by Ruth Carter

It’s important to note when you’re dancing at a memorial to look for any signage that indicated whether you are permitted to be on the memorial itself.  In Bolin Park in Phoenix, there are over a dozen memorials and statutes.  I was surprised that each one did not have a “Do Not Climb” plaque until someone pointed out that this notice was on the posted signs with all the rules regarding permitted behaviors in the park.

We had a great time at the dance event in Phoenix.  There was another rally going on and there was lots of police and security present.  At one point we went over to their area and started dancing on the lawn when they started to play music.  The police looked at us strangely and smiled.

Thank you to Phoenix commercial photographer Adam Nollmeyer for shooting such awesome footage at the Phoenix Dance for Liberty Flash Mob.

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Is That Legal – Improv AZ Coroner Prank #2

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  I am a law student.  In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

Last week the Improv AZ crew decided to revise their world –famous coroner prank, only this time instead of having four people in “coroner” shirts carry a stuffed body bag on the light rail, we took it for a walk through Chandler mall.

We were hoping to raise a lot of eyebrows and get a lot of double takes and surprised stares of disbelief.  We succeeded in that, but we also spent just enough time in the building to get the attention of mall security.  Not wanting to cause any trouble, we offered to leave.  They refused our offer and called Chandler Police instead.  A mall cop claimed we committed “a dozen felonies.”  The real cop said we could have been charged with disorderly conduct.  In the end, they let us go with a warning and the mall cops banned us from Chandler mall for three months.

Of course as the group’s CLS, I did my usual research before doing this prank, and after our run in with the law, I rechecked everything.

What can mall cops really do?

Mall cops are citizens and can only make citizen arrests.  If they are an agent of the property owner, they can ask people to leave and call law enforcement to arrest them for trespassing if the patrons don’t comply.

Did we commit trespassing?

I don’t think so.  Shopping malls open themselves up for members of the public to enter and shop.  We are, in legalese, “invitees.”  If we had been asked to leave by a property owner or their agent and then refused to go, then we would have been trespassing.

Were we illegally impersonating a government official?

The way Arizona law is written, we would have to pretend to be a public servant and engage in conduct “with the intent to induce another to submit to [our] pretended official authority or to rely upon [our] pretended official acts” to be charged with impersonation.  We did nothing to assert our authority against any mall patrons or anyone else.

A mall cop tried to tell us that our fake coroner badges made us guilty of a felony, but anyone looking closely at them would have seen that they were made with someone’s laminator at home.  Our badges had our pictures – mine was my Twitter avatar – and the words “Coroner” and “All Access Pass.”  The mall cop took our badges from us and turned them over to the Chandler police officer.  After looking at them briefly, he gave them back to us.

FYI – Arizona doesn’t have coroners.  It has medical examiners.

Did we commit disorderly conduct?

I think that’s a stretch at best.  Arizona law defines disorderly conduct as engaging in certain behavior “with the intent to disturb the peace or quiet of a neighborhood, family, or person or with the knowledge of doing so.”  The only behavior they could have tried to pin on us was “fighting, violent or seriously disruptive behavior.”   Our conduct could have been considered disruptive, but probably not deserving of being in the same category as violent behavior.  The other behaviors on the list for disorderly conduct didn’t seem to apply since we weren’t making noise, using offensive language, carrying weapons, or preventing business transactions from occurring.

Could the mall cops make our camera guy prove he’d erased the footage he shot with his phone?

Mall cops are just civilians so they probably don’t have that authority.  Real cops, however, can search your phone if it’s related to an arrest.  Otherwise, it looks like they’d a search warrant.

Is it illegal to walk around with a fake dead body?

I looked through Arizona statutes and didn’t find any laws against having fake dead body.  I find out about some of the things you can’t do with an actual dead body:

  • You can’t move a dead human body with the hopes of abandoning or concealing it.
  • You can’t move a dead body from its grave without authority of law.
  • You can’t steal stuff off or from a dead body.
  • You can’t have sex with a dead body.

For now the four coroners are banned from Chandler mall.  The mall cop gave each of us a card with the Chandler mall code of conduct on it.  I’d share this list with you (it’s pretty funny) but it’s too long, and surprisingly, Chandler mall doesn’t have it available on their website.

Related Articles:
Official Improv AZ Blog: When Mall Cops Swarm – The Coroner Prank #2
Video: Improv AZ – Coroner Prank 2, “Bob Goes To The Mall”